We all know that cats are creatures of habit. The vast majority of cats do not like significant change in their surroundings or routine. Even a trip to the veterinary clinic can be very stressful. Things like the carrier, the car ride, the odors of the strange or disliked location, and the very act of handling a cat against its will, can all bring out very stressed behaviors.
The good news is that there are ways to help make the trip to the veterinary clinic less stressful for all involved. These all take some work and not every cat will respond as desired.
The process of reducing veterinary visit stress starts at home. Cats are very perceptive of their owner's moods. Try to remain calm both at home and at the clinic. If you are stressed about the veterinary visit, the cat will become stressed or even learn to associate certain moods/behaviors with a veterinary visit. Very little that we do here at Bobtown Pet Clinic should be considered truly stress worthy for pets or owners. If you remain calm throughout the visit, it will help your cat remain calm.
Try to help your cat become used to the type of handling they are likely to experience at a veterinary clinic. This amounts to touching your cat almost everywhere. Lift the tail. Handle the feet. Touch the tummy. Look in the ears, eyes and mouth. When practiced at a young age, these activities really become routine for a cat and not an fearful exercise. Think desensitization.
Pet carriers should be relatively small. The cat will only spend a short time in it and most of that time will be sitting or laying down. Hard plastic carriers work extremely well. The best carriers have a door in the front, a door on top, and the top half of the carrier can be removed.
My personal preference is to have clamps holding the 2 halves together rather than bolts and nuts. This makes the top half of the carrier very easy to remove. We can often do the entire exam on a nervous kitty in the bottom half of the carrier. This makes the cat feel more hidden and secure. The top opening often makes it much easier to get a cat into the carrier.
When at home, the carrier should be left out for the cat to have access to. When a pet taxi becomes a familiar item, the cats do not run and hide every time it comes out. If you only saw the car when you went to the doctor, chances are very good you would not like the car either.
It can help to feed the cat near the carrier. Other ideas include putting treats in the carrier on a regular basis, putting toys, a blanket or even a favorite person's clothing into the carrier. Praise your cat for calm behavior in and around the carrier. You may be surprised to find your cat sleeping in its carrier. The carrier becomes a place of security and familiarity, thus reducing stress for car rides.
When in the exam room at the veterinary clinic, open the carrier door to see if your cat will venture out on its own. A time of exploration and acclimation before handling by a relative stranger makes most cats more comfortable. Avoid dumping or pulling a cat out of the carrier. This only serves to increase stress.
Carriers should be considered a necessity for transporting cats in a vehicle. It is far safer for you and your cat. Practicing car rides can help. Short rides that result in rewards are the best. These can just be for a short ride. We often encourage clients to bring a pet by for a weight and a treat. This also makes Bobtown Pet Clinic more familiar. We just ask that you call ahead to make sure it is relatively quiet. We do not want the visit to be stressful.
In the car it can help to have a blanket or towel covering the carrier to reduce motion sickness. Products like Feliway, a stress reducing feline pheromone, can be used in the carrier during car rides. It also helps not to feed cats for a few hours prior to the car ride. This also reduces motion sickness but often helps them be a bit hungry and more accepting of treats.
When in the car try to keep the carrier level. Cats often do not like sitting on an incline.
When at the veterinary clinic, try not to put the carrier on the floor. Cats feel less vulnerable when they are in an elevated location. Please feel free to put the carrier on a chair, on the counter or on the exam table.
Help us keep the exam room relatively quiet. Loud noises, laughing, sudden movements, and other surprising things can make a cat more nervous. Bribes of gentle attention and food can often be very helpful.
It is often surprising how for many cats less is more. The more the cat is touched, the more it is aroused. The more restraint we use, the more the cat fights us. Sometimes the less we handle or restrain a cat, the more it tolerates what we are doing.
Cats are really very interesting creatures. They never cease to be fascinating. They never cease to be challenging. What works with one cat may not work with another.
You can find a brochure here for more information.
Cats need veterinary care. Preventive care will prolong their lives and improve their quality of life. Making veterinary visits less stressful will help your cat receive the care it needs. The techniques discussed in this blog can be very helpful, especially when initiated at a very young age.